What Waits For the Occupy Gezi Protesters

GIT - NA member Jeffrey Gibbs gives an eyewitness account from Taksim Square and the ongoing trial of Kurdish human rights activists in Silivri and comments on what Taksim represents for the prospects of democracy in Turkey.

I must be careful of words—the old cliches don’t work anymore. Freedom, democracy, liberty, tolerance—the wrong people have used them for the wrong things for so many years. Sometimes with good intentions, sometimes with bad. My ears hurt to hear them.

So let me paint a picture.

Gezi Park, Taksim Square—The heart of Istanbul. To the left of the stairs that lead to the park, the Kurds dance the Halay in an ever widening circle. The Kurdish flag flies and the radio blasts guerilla songs. A crowd moves past them—‘Turkey for the Turks’ Kemalists most likely with red star and crescent banners emblazoned with Atatürk’s face. They chant ‘We are soldiers of Mustafa Kemal!’ Down the path a little bit, they will come across a group of gay men marching in the other direction chanting, ‘We are NOBODY’S soldiers.’ They are hamming it up big time. Between the two converging groups you find a tent for the Turkish Socialist Party—old school hardliners, and another tent of middle-aged Armenian church ladies distributing cookies. Down in the main square, some Black Sea people dance the wild horon.

A few weeks ago, things would have been very different. The Kurds and Kemalists would have been fighting in the streets; the gay men harassed or jeered, maybe by the Black Sea boys, the Armenians would have been trying to keep a low profile and everyone would have been watching what they said—as afraid of each other, even, as they are of the government. But in Gezi Park this weekend they are all here, speaking out, without fear or censure. They don’t necessarily like each other—make no mistake about that--but they tolerate each other, they leave each other alone.

The media calls it a carnival or a festival or a party. But it’s much more organized than that—a funhouse reflection of a state. And together our protesters have created a miniature city within a city that reflects the dream of Martin Luther King—however ephemeral, however tenuous, however fast the army of police and marauders approach, people feel ‘free at last’.

Together, these disparate groups have built a ‘Museum of the Revolution’ pasting pictures of the police attacks and subsequent resistance in the abandoned trailer of the construction crew’s foreman. They have transformed the overturned and looted cars of the civil police into day-glo platforms of free speech—everyone grabs a spray can and writes what they think. And, in a first for Turkey, they write it with no fear or hesitation.

They’ve created a ‘Market of the Uprising’ where they distribute drinks for free. They set up a ‘children’s studio’ where kids get messy with tempera paints and create whatever they hell picture they want on huge sheets of white paper, emerging from their efforts covered in color.

They have trash teams that do clean up of the grounds and somehow have managed to publish two newspapers ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘The Future’ which they distribute among the hundreds of thousands of people who come to visit every day. They’ve set up a television station (online of course), a radio station, several different websites in a multiplicity of languages. They’ve created a ‘Parliament’ where different people come and debate each other and a moderator turns off their microphone whenever they get aggressive or insulting.
Now let me give you a bit of what Erdoğan’s AKP has in mind for these people—in case you couldn’t guess from the continuing brutal police attacks and arrests in Antakya, Ankara, Eskişehir and Izmir. Or from the tortures of detainees here in Istanbul.

You see,  I could not make it down to Gezi Park until Friday because the rest of the week my family was kept busy by the KCK show trial of my father-in-law and hundreds of others. The trial took place in Silivri and has been going on for almost two years. For some reason, my more enlightened work colleagues at the protests were under the impression that everyone had been released. This was a devastating blow to our morale. How could people aware enough to come to Gezi NOT KNOW??

For the past year and half, the trial has been held in Silivri prison’s old courtroom. The first time I was there, I counted about 60 chairs on the right of the court room for defense attorneys, another 60 on the left of the courtroom for government officials and parliamentarians, in the middle over 200 chairs for defendants, and in the back a small section for visitors. Well we’re in the new and improved courtroom now. Recently completed, AKP authorities have added another section for defendants—I think it is up to 250 chairs now. There are now 180 chairs on the right for defense lawyers and 180 more on the left. The section for the journalist and parliamentarians is now in the far back corner where it is difficult to see or hear and numbers maybe 45 chairs—3 in a row and 15 deep. Only the first two rows could see anything.

What is the symbolism here? What needs is the government anticipating? Even larger mass trials with hundreds of defense attorneys and a pliant press that sits obediently and silently in the back?

You can read the rest of Jeffrey Gibbs's commentary and view his photographs from Taksim protests, as well as his other reports from Istanbul at his blog Istanbul and Beyond.

Education in Mother Language: A Barrier to Kurdish - Turkish 'Open' Dialogue

by Nil Uzun

In Turkey, during a time of massive arbitrary detentions of thousands including activists, journalists, academics, students and while the political ground of dialogue encompassing multiple voices has been shut down systematically, we are forced to question one more time that maybe this ground has never been meant to be open at all. In a time when the world mother languages have been celebrated on February 21 internationally, a monolingual education system inhibits the possibilities of an "open" dialogue between the Kurdish and Turkish people. As Boaventura de Sousa Santos reminds us, "only by means of mutual intelligibility of practices is it possible to evaluate them and identify possible alliances among them."[1]

Sixty years ago, another political system in East Pakistan, today known as Bangladesh, failed to provide inclusionary policies of language as well; which resulted in the emergence of Bengali language movement, considered to be the genesis of the independence movement of Bangladesh. When the state of Pakistan was created after the end of British rule in 1947, it came with a language controversy. The government’s failure to include Bengali in the official language resulted in several student groups and organizations forming a committee to protest this exclusion in the same year, what has been called as the Language Movement. The movement had its peak on February 21, 1952 when the students of Dhaka University, in spite of the government ban on any kind of meetings and demonstrations, organized mass protest which ended up several students being killed by the police and paramilitary shootings. Shortly after, the day of “February 21” has been marked as both the day of the “martyrs” and the “genesis” of the independence movement of the Bengalis.
As a result of the strong symbolic meaning of that day and its roots in the Bengali Language Movement, in the 30th General Conference of UNESCO in 1999, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia proposed to the General Assembly to celebrate February 21 internationally as International Mother Language Day. No matter what the surrounding controversies about the linguistic and ethnic nationalism that the movement may have led to, the proposal had been put in action by UNESCO in February 2000 “to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism”. This year of 2012, the theme was “mother tongue instruction and inclusive education”[2]. 
Meanwhile,the results of a research conducted in Turkey as part of a Turkish-German cooperative project titled “Literacy Acquisition in Schools in the context of Migration and Multilingualism” were published[3]. The research documents the relationship between multilingualism, internal migration and ethnicities in Turkey and its impacts on the learning processes of the children. The researchers Muge Ayan Ceyhan and Dilara Kocbas argue that the setbacks of multilingual children are mostly the results of studying in a different language than the one they speak at home. Lower socioeconomic status of their families, mostly a byproduct of the dislocation due to internal migration into segregated neighborhoods, negatively impacts the children’s learning abilities. Especially among the first year students, the language barrier affects the class participation in the classroom while limiting the social interaction outside.
The monolingual and restrictive Turkish education system dismisses the needs of the multilingual children of ethnic minorities and positions them as disadvantaged and discriminated vis-à-vis the ones whose mother tongue is Turkish. Simultaneously, the additional socio-economic factors such as gender discrimination and child labor cement their social locations.
One of the most striking depictions of the challenges faced by the children learning in a language other than the mother tongue is the 2008 movie of Orhan Eskikoy and Ozgur Dogan, “Iki Dil bir Bavul” (although the international title reads On the Way to School the direct translation would be “Two Languages and A Luggage”).[4] The movie depicts the bittersweet encounters of a Turkish elementary schoolteacher from Aegean region appointed in a Kurdish village in the city of Sanliurfa, where the both parties do not know each other's language. The movie through these encounters reveals the multiple layers of inequalities within the society. In one particular scene, the teacher, Emre, asks the pupils a simple yet very loaded question:  “You don’t understand me do you? Fine, I don’t understand you either. So what do we do now?” [5]
                        Nil Uzun, Ph.D. candidate in sociology, Rutgers University


[1] B.Sousa Santos. 2004. “A Critique of LazyReason: against the Waste of Experience”, in I.Wallerstein (ed.) The Modern World-System in the Longue Durée.Paradigm Publishers, Boulder.   
[5] “Anlamiyonuz di mi? Oyle guluyonuz zaten. Iyiben de sizi anlamiyorum. Napicaz?”

Amnesty International

Who Really Murdered Hrant Dink?

William Jones, Chair of Amnesty International USA's Turkey Coordination Group writes about the murder case of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. 
Hrant Dink
Hrant Dink was shot dead outside his Istanbul office in 2007.

Five years ago, Hrant was gunned down in front of his Istanbul office by a 17-year-old Turk named Ogun Samast.   Dink, an outspoken member of Turkey’s dwindling Armenian community and the editor of the newspaper, Agos, had long been subject to public vilification and state harassment.  His death was a shock, but it was no surprise.

Samast was convicted last year of the killing, and sentenced to over 22 years.  It was obvious, however, that the teenager was not acting alone: not only had Samast himself confessed he was driven by a group of people whom he called “older brothers;” In 2010 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Turkish authorities had “failed to act on information they received that could have prevented Dink’s murder and had failed to investigate the role of state officials in his death.”
Despite this judgment, however, on January 17 a Turkish court convicted only one individual, Yasin Hayal of instigating the 2007 murder, rejecting “claims that the murder was an act of conspiracy by an illegal network within the Turkish state.”   Yet there is good reason to believe that elements of the security services were involved, particularly because Hayal had close relations with officers in the local gendarmerie.

This was, as Reporters Without Borders has stated, “a sham trial”. Amnesty International’s Turkey Researcher Andrew Gardner notes:
The security services knew of the murder plot and were in communication with those accused of the murder yet nothing was done to stop it taking place. Nothing short of a full investigation into the actions of all the state institutions and officials implicated in the murder will represent justice.
Currently, Turkey is imprisoning thousands for what appear to be political crimes.  Among these journalists like Nedim Şener, a forceful critic of Turkey’s handling of the Dink case.  The irony is that while journalists like Şener languish in pre-trial detention, the real conspirators – and murderers – continue to garner their government pay.

The Chamber Pot Affair:

Bowels of the Art Market, Limits to Creativity in Turkey, 
and the Question of Censorship

A series of news items and responses appeared in the Turkish media over the last few weeks in relation to a work of art commissioned and subsequently rejected by Istanbul Modern Art Museum. The artist, Bubi Hayon, accused the museum’s curatorial board with censoring his work, and his supporters took his accusations to the press. The news sparked up a larger debate in the art world about the definition of censorship, but also, and perhaps more importantly, made evident the power dynamics among the leading institutions and individuals therein.

The “chamber pot” incident differs from the more common kinds of debates centered on accusations of censorship of art commissions and the publicity that ensues thereafter around the globe (one notorious historical example of which is Andy Warhol’s 13 Most Wanted Men); and the difference is twofold. First, the work was commissioned for auctioning purposes only and would be displayed at an exclusive after-hour fundraiser event organized only for collectors. Second, because there was no legal contract signed between the artist and the museum, there was little proof other than the post-event testimonials of both parties.

Regardless of the eventual rejection of the work (without providing a comprehensive reason) or whether or not that qualifies as censorship, it was mind-boggling that an art institution internationally recognized and as well-established as Istanbul Modern could patronize works without assuming any accountability and could see it fit to operate in a vague, unprofessional, insensitive and top-down framework. However the subsequent response of the museum as well as the attitude of other institutions that took part in the public debate revealed dirtier secrets of the networks of patronage, production and distribution of works of art in Turkey. The patent uncritical justification adopted by the museum was that the artist was well aware of “the primary purpose of the work” he was asked to create, which “was to raise funds”: it was a selection based solely on marketability! Shockingly, the Turkey section of International Association of Art Critics (AICA) and Turkish National Committee of the International Plastic Arts Association (UNESCO AIAP) seemed to join forces with the museum in an effort to marginalize the artist Bubi Hayon. Especially the last press release of AIAP hinted monopoly over claims to political engagement and social activism in the Turkish art circles, as well as stating that an artist’s rejection should be her emotional struggle and not a publicity-driven petition. The sincerity of the cause of the artist and its supporters was deemed questionable because of their lack of engagement with other sociopolitical causes.

For more (in Turkish) on the acts of other artists in protest of Istanbul Modern's curatorial team go to a news item and a related commentary on Radikal.

Zeynep Oguz, Ph.D. candidate


Standing Up Against Arbitrary Jailing in Times of Unfortunate Occidentalisms

As a scholar, who writes, thinks and teaches about critiques of the Western liberal subject, and problems with "universal human rights" and Enlightenment concepts such as "freedom" and "liberty," I did not think twice about joining the "Working Group for Academic Freedom and Liberty of Research in Turkey." Why such exceptionalism?
It is not simply because I know some of the key people who spearheaded this group, and trust their vision. GIT is a much needed organization that helps raise transnational awareness of the violations happening in contemporary Turkey -of arbitrary arrests of journalists, scholars, students, which were, until a few days ago[1], not making it to global news, and in fact, became invisible with an insistence of Western media's positioning Turkey as a model for "Arab countries." Hence, there is a double-move here that GIT wants to (initially) accomplish: one is reporting on the increasingly fascistic attitude of the current government in Turkey, and the other is exposing the unspoken global dynamics that enable such State-terror on its own citizens and render it globally invisible at the same time.
Ends do not justify means, of course; and we did receive some criticism about serving imperial agendas by signing up to using notions such as "academic freedom" and "liberty of research." It is important to underline a few things here: We, at least many of us, do not feel at home with such concepts ourselves. Most of us engage in scholarly work that problematizes these notions and their deployment. Yet, as many scholars of globalization have shown, concepts are not static, and as they travel, they inevitably acquire different meanings and uses. Treating those who ask for "freedom and liberty" for people who are jailed without any proof of criminal activity as suffering from Westernized false consciousness is an unfortunate Occidentalism, and exemplifies an attitude that is essentialist, ungrounded and paternalistic.
Such unfortunate Occidentalisms are destined to make simplistic and faulty arguments, as what such criticism ends up defending, as an unintended (or intended) consequence of its logic, are fascistic actions of a Nation-State arbitrarily jailing its citizens for allegedly "aiding terrorist organizations." Yet, most scholars would mark the birthplace of fascism (in its contemporary forms), the Nation-State, and the prison in the "West." Further, one of the most prominent recent examples of a Nation-State arbitrary jailing its citizens (and non-citizens) for "aiding terrorism" has been the imperial center of the U.S. In brief, such simplistic lines drawn between the East and the West are simply not attainable at least in the case of contemporary Turkey.
Freedom and liberty are not ideal terms for what we want to make a case for. But when it comes to "bare life," I find myself grabbing whatever I can find, because there is an urgency in which we are making our demands. When people are picked up at their homes at five in the morning for a course they might have taught or for an article they might have published, and find themselves imprisoned, calling their request for freedom "serving imperial agendas" is not only an unfortunate Occidentalism but also unacceptably cruel. Are the same critics willing to blame Palestinians asking for "freedom," "liberty" and "self-determination" for being manipulated by imperialist agendas?
Evren Savci, Ph.D., Northwestern University

[1] With the exception of a NYT article from January 4th ( and a bit more cautious analysis in the Economist (

Scholars Targeted in Turkey's "War on Terror"

[Originally published by Howard Eissenstat on the Amnesty International USA Web Log on January 3, 2012.]

One particularly troubling aspect of Turkey’s own “War on Terror” is the way that it has targeted a wide range of individuals with no record of violence.  Virtually anyone critical of the government may be arrested.
A recent speech by Interior Minister, İdris Naim Şahin, made clear that terrorism includes “[writing] poems or short articles [which] demoralize the soldiers or police” and that terrorist cells can include “a university chair, an association, or a non-governmental organization” in “Istanbul, Izmir, Bursa, Germany, London, wherever…”

This rhetoric reflects an ugly reality: thousands of individuals have been arrested, with most held in lengthy pre-trial detentions.  Most are not accused of violence and none have the right to challenge evidence in advance of their trial.

Turkish scholars and students have been particularly hard hit.  The cases of world-renowned scholars like Büşra Ersanlı have garnered the most attention, but no university campus has been untouched.  Student Berna Yılmaz, for example, has been in custody for over twenty months for having opened up a placard in favor of free education during a campus visit by Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdoğan.  Sadly, she is not alone.  It is estimated that five hundred or more university students are held in pre-trial detention in Turkey.

Internationally, professional associations and watchdog groups are sounding the alarm.  The Middle East Studies Association, for example, notes that these arrests are part of an “effort to silence scholars.”  Similar statements of concern have come from Nature, one of the premier journals in the life sciences, and PEN International.  In response to these events, scholars in France initiated the Groupe International de Travail to chronicle attacks on scholars and scholarship in Turkey.  Sister groups are developing worldwide, including a North American branch that was announced only this week, along with a new presence on facebook.

With all the attention being paid to Turkey’s newly assertive role in international politics, too little attention has been paid to its growing repression at home.  But the threat is real.  It will not go unchallenged.

(Howard Eissenstat is an Assistant Professor of History at St. Lawrance University.)



September 12 – the Sequel

September 12, 1980, is a date the significance of which does not require much of an explanation for people who study modern Turkey. September 12, 2010, on the other hand, is not known as well. It is the date of the referendum which amended certain articles of the Turkish constitution and also introduced a couple of temporary clauses. While the constitutional revisions were supposed to institute a more advanced democracy in Turkey by weakening the legacy of the 1980 military coup, Turkey is ruled in a more authoritarian fashion today than it was before the referendum. In many ways, it is as if Turkey is ruled by a military regime under civilian garb.

Of course, there are some important differences between the two post-September 12 regimes. Economically, the country seems to be doing better – at least, that is the impression one gets in the malls, markets, and streets. On certain political issues, such as the critique of Kemalist totalitarianism, or the freedom to broadcast, publish, sing, and speak in Kurdish, there is definitely considerable improvement from the 1980s to 2010s. (Even in these issues, the improvements have to be qualified: the minimum wage is about $ 443 a month, roughly $ 2.75 per hour; while one can say almost anything about the role of the military in Kemalist politics, a conscientious objector would still find himself in jail; even though there is a public Kurdish TV channel, a Kurdish woman might still find herself in trial for singing Kurdish songs as is the case with Raziye Kızıl.)

Yet in terms of recognizing the right of free speech when it comes to voices of opposition, the AKP government acts in ways that is very much reminiscent of a military junta. Journalists, professors, and students are jailed for months –or even years– without a sentence; the Minister of the Interior invents new terminology (“scientific terror”) to suppress academics; prosecutors invent illegal organizations that have ceased to exist for decades in order to create terror related allegations against college students.

All of this is not suprising to some Turkish people who have been suspecting all along that the AKP’s relationship with democratic discourses was nothing but hypocrisy. I have not been one of them. To the contrary, over the years I have often found myself defending AKP against my Kemalist friends who believed that the AKP had a secret agenda. I still do not believe that the AKP aims to institutionalize an Islamic regime in Turkey. Yet the actions of the AKP government since September 12, 2010, do suggest that its love of democracy ended when it finally came to exercise a greater degree of control over the judiciary after the constitutional revisions took effect. Recently, the Minister of the Interior admitted this when he spoke about the concerted efforts of the government and the judiciary against the KCK (Union of Communities in Kurdistan).

I would like to hope that Turkey is simply living through a transitional period during which the conservatives are replicating the example of the Kemalists in government for the lack of a better example in recent Turkish political history. I would like to hope that they will see how they have absorbed the worst qualities of their former political competitors. But of course, hoping is not enough to bring about change. That is why I chose to join GIT – North America. If you agree, please consider following us.

Baki Tezcan



Amnesty International:

Turkey: A repressive model for the Middle East?

Howard Eissenstat writes on the increasing violations of freedom of expression. He teaches at St Lawrence and is a specialist of Turkey for the Amnesty International USA.

One of the frustrations of talking about the Turkish Republic right now is that so much is going on, in so many different directions, that it can be hard to decide what issues to address.  In particular, the tremendous gap between its increasingly important role in the world seems inconsistent with increased repression at home and has made it tough for journalists to address both simultaneously.

Much of the talk is about Turkey’s new “soft power.”  Turkish culture is becoming more influential, with a booming economy and a dynamic film and television industry that has found a tremendous following among its neighbors in both the Balkans and the Middle East.  In the past few years it has become an important regional player and is widely seen as a potential model for democratic movements in the wider Middle East.

The Turkish government was a vocal critic of repression in Libya and Egypt and has been at the forefront of efforts to curb the on-going repression in Syria.  While its voice has been selective (Turkey supported Ahmadinejad during the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009 and has been notably reticent in its criticism of Bahrain this past year), it deserves credit for the support it has given to democratic forces this past year.

At the same time, Turkey’s own record looks increasingly grim.  There is growing state control over virtually every aspect of cultural production.  Don’t look for cigarettes or whisky at Rick’s Place in Casablanca.  They’ll have been air-brushed out.  Turkey has a dubious record of internet censorship which has been exacerbated by a new national system of internet filters.   Perhaps one shouldn’t be surprised that key words associated with Kurdish identity have been blocked, but apparentlyDarwinism also runs afoul of Turkish censors.  Must be all that talk of “mating.”



See the link below for the rest of the article:

The Guardian:

Turkey: The 'Progressive' Land of


Ayça Çubukçu writes on the increasing repression and issues of democracy in Turkey. She teaches at Harvard University.

There is a growing disjuncture between those who promote modern-day Turkey as a democracy and those who experience Turkey as a land of arbitrary detentions, political repression and military destruction.
In the past two years, the Turkish state has imprisoned thousands of its citizens under the sweeping rubric of counter-terrorism operations. The recent wave of arbitrary detentions known as the KCK operations has cast such a wide net that participation in a single protest or petition could constitute evidence of an intention to commit terrorism – if not directly, then certainly by association.
Today, even relatively privileged academic colleagues in Turkey face the prospect of sharing the fate of Professor Büşra Ersanlı of Marmara University, whose detention in October 2011 as an alleged terrorist was proudly defended by the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development party (AKP).
Professor Ersanlı's imprisonment has received considerable attention in Turkey and beyond, prompting petitionsprotests, and academic initiatives by her colleagues and others concerned with the deteriorating prospects of democratic politics in Turkey. Organisations such as Human Rights Watch have issued statements condemning Ersanlı's arrest as "part of a crackdown on people engaged in legal political activity with the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy party".

See the link below for the rest of the article:

Turkish Politics, Kurdish Rights, and the KCK Operations: Interview with Aslı Bali  (by Ziad Abu-Rish)

Aslı Bali comments on the KCK operations and recent arrests in Turkey. She teaches at UCLA.

[Arrested individuals being transported to their hearing in Diyarbakir as supporters look on. Image from]  
[Arrested individuals being transported to their hearing in Diyarbakir as supporters look on. Image from]

Turkey recently has witnessed a massive police operation against activists, advocates, academics, and publishers who are pro-Kurdish on the grounds of alleged links to the outlawed “Union of Communities in Kurdistan” (sometimes also referred to as the Kurdish Communities Union), known by its Kurdish-language acronym, the KCK. In the following interview, Aslı Bali provides some context for the “KCK Operations,” with particular reference to the role of the Justice and Development Party—known by its Turkish-language acronym, the AKP—and what these operations reflect about the broader struggle for civilian rule and democratization. The interview was conducted via Skype on 2 November 2011, video clips of which are posted below in response to each of the questions. The interview was transcribed by Kristina Benson.

For the rest of the article and the interview clips with Aslı Bali, please see the link below: